Performance measurement is a key tool for assessing and improving local government services. Managers and their teams identify the service areas that are critical for meeting community goals, then define and collect the key data that indicate how well those services are being delivered.
By collecting and reporting performance data, managers can show elected officials and citizens that tax dollars are being spent to achieve desired results. But how do they know how well they’re performing unless they can compare or benchmark with other communities?
To answer that question, cities and counties can band together to form performance consortia that allow them to compare with similar jurisdictions. And the value added by this approach was demonstrated in the ICMA webinar “Performance Management Consortia: Don't Go It Alone.”
The webinar, which attracted 225 participants, was offered free to ICMA members, thanks to generous sponsorship from ICMA-RC, and members can access a streaming version from the ICMA website without charge. Presenters were Gerald Young, Technology, Analysis, and User Support Coordinator, ICMA Center for Performance Analytics; Brent Stockwell, Assistant City Manager, Scottsdale, Arizona; and Susan Boyer, Executive Director, Florida Benchmarking Consortium (FBC).
The Consortium Advantage
When collecting and analyzing performance data, it can be tempting to “go it alone” to keep it simple and maintain control. But the consortium approach has significant advantages:
Members of a performance consortium make up a community of peers with something in common—perhaps jurisdictions of similar size or geographic proximity, those with a similar number of employees, or those that have a major tourist attraction, a port, or something else that sets them apart.
The Valley Benchmark Cities consortium described by Stockwell, for example, is made up of 11 cities in the Phoenix area. The cities had been unable to answer questions from elected officials about how their performance compared with other cities, and the media were reporting inaccurate and incomplete comparisons that began to take on a life of their own. (Stockwell wrote an expanded description of Valley Benchmark Cities for the December 2015 issue of ICMA’s PM magazine.)
In Florida, the 40+ FBC members wanted a state-based consortium with the ability to select the cities or counties with which to compare, based on geography or other features (e.g., high-growth cities, festival hosts, university towns). This flexibility was important, because Florida is “four states in one,” with significant differences among cities based on their geographic locations.
An important feature of consortia is a set of agreed-upon definitions to enable apples-to-apples comparisons and benchmarking of performance data. Without common definitions, it’s difficult to determine whether data are really comparable. In both the Arizona and Florida consortia, participants agreed on the service areas they wanted to measure (7 service areas in Arizona; 19 in Florida) and hammered out definitions to ensure consistency and comparability.
Consortium participants can share resources for selecting measures, analyzing data, and training. FBC in
Florida, for example, has two conferences each year, provides Lean Six Sigma training and certification (Yellow Belt and Green Belt), facilitates sharing of successes (and failures), and offers topic-based training on request.
Both consortia also have external support. The Arizona group works with Arizona State University (which serves as the group’s convener), the Alliance for Innovation, ICMA, and the council of governments in Maricopa County. FBC receives assistance from professors and graduate students at the Institute of Government, University of Central Florida.
A Network for Learning
A performance consortium provides a built-in network for sharing experiences, enabling participants to identify and adopt management practices that have been successful in other places. Both consortia publish their data and encourage discussion and information sharing.
Tips for Success
Presenters also provided tips for initiating and establishing consortia. “Success factors” include:
- Sell the idea through networking with other jurisdictions to gain their commitment and identify “champions.” In Arizona, for example, the early advocates researched and provided comparative data on a number of measures to get people talking about differences and similarities in their jurisdictions.
- Agree on a common purpose and the measures to be collected so that participants have a common language.
- Develop a culture of mutual trust.
- Share data freely.
- Partner with a university or other “neutral broker” that can facilitate discussions and, in the best case, share the work of research, data analysis, and other tasks.
- Be patient; the evolution of a successful consortium takes a period of years.
ICMA encourages cities and counties to set up consortia based on geography or other characteristics for local and national benchmarking. ICMA staff and performance coaches can assist you. To get started, contact email@example.com.
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